Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Alex Reid on Blogging


No one likes it when you individuate: that's a psychological truism. So it's not surprising to me that there is a wave of attacks on scholarly blogging. Good! We're past the ridicule phase then, and into the assault phase. Soon we'll be at the “I was always into blogging myself” phase.

Alex Reid has just posted another of his thoughtful interventions, this time on the blogging issue. I think his argument is right on the money. Blogging isn't just a sideline, it's a form of scholarship, and it's threatening because it's new and because it's easy and free and widely accessible.

And for the oldest reason of all: “I didn't give you permission to start doing it.”

This in particular is an excellent, excellent point:

It would seem to me that the average academic (or academic journal) seeks to avoid exposure. Publishing an article in the "Journal of narrowly-focused humanities studies" is a good way to hide. Those who do manage to find you will probably be sympathetic. Plus you always have the shield of peer-review: clearly someone thought what you said was ok. Even if someone disagrees with you, the differences will likely be on details that very few people will know or care about. Besides, by the time that person manages to write and publish a response, your article is in the distant past. In any case, this almost never happens. Since 93% of humanities articles are never cited you can safely publish with the assumption that no one will ever mention your article again. Phew!


If you've never tried, then when you do, be sure to recognize the implicit conservatism of journals. I've been told more times than I can count that my essay “isn't even an essay” and has no right to be born, because of this force. Books, no problem.

Why, while we're on the subject? Well, to buy a book is to be prepared to be surprised—to pay to be surprised, in fact. Who wants to pay for something they already know?

There are just a lot of intrinsically conservative forces in journal world. Think of a harried editor with 90 essays in the pipeline (I know, I used to be one). How do you figure out what to send to the advisory board, what to summarily reject, etc? You have to go, just a bit, with “what's in the air.” Like a record store manager you have to think fast when a new product arrives. Does it go in Heavy Metal or Rhythm and Blues? If it doesn't fit, you are bound to be a little suspicious.

Blogging is a great opportunity to explore new ideas in a different environment. I won't say it's free of all consequences. There are all kinds of forces at work here too. But at least you can get your weirdness out there.

If Socrates really did sit around in the Agora, and if pre-Socratics did wander around getting paid to think as piece work, then they were doing with their feet what bloggers do with their laptops.

7 comments:

slatted light said...

Tim, you may have already seen this but Ray Brassier weighs in with some particularly cutting remarks on SR and scholarly blogging here. Maybe more evidence of the 'assault' phase. I really agree with you: though the blog might lend itself to promotion, it also actually invites response and defence. It also develops ideas in an interactive form - in response to what others are saying and doing. This can get incestuous - in the sense that blogs are not ever really as open to the world as it might seem: there's a random element there but I'd argue there'd be a great variety of blogs out there who never get 'cited', and thus the 7% citation figure would translate into the online world too, thereabouts. But the accusation of "incestuousness" is also a way often of eliding the amplification and strengthening effect on ideas through blogs as a kind of nepotism: which is, definitely, a cynical conflation. Though I do think Brassier has a point insofar as the inherently promotional dimension of the web makes it difficult for serious philosophical debate: it's not that it can't happen, or doesn't, but trumpery is almost encoded in it via the very audience (real or imagined: blogging operates on an invisible quotient assumption) available for oneupmaniship and counterinterventions and case after case for the defence. Still, as one of the misguidely enthusiastic and impressionable -- well, not grad student, but grad student aged commenters, I, for one, am thankful that this philosophy blogging renaissance has begun to take place. What it reminds me of more closely, actually, is the parallel renaissance taking place in small literary presses across the United States, Britain and, to a lesser extent, Australia right now, which has given a new lease on life to new experimental writing. Good writers are not feeling as though they have to get their foot in some big publishing door or narrow paradigm to write and put out their work. It's inspiring. And the last thing it is is non-rigorous.

Timothy Morton said...

It was rather badly timed, no?

Cengiz Erdem said...

It was indeed...

Cengiz Erdem said...

It was indeed...

Mark said...

It's interesting how it's been playing out across fields. The debate I've run across in most other areas has been fairly positive on blogging, though admittedly it's self-selecting (a lot of the debate is, well, on blogs). Some groups of academic political theorists (feminist theorists, Marxists, etc.) see it as a way to connect their discourses to discourses outside academia, which is ultimately one of the supposed goals. And many scientists are very positive on blogging, especially in areas like climate science where they feel their work is being distorted, so blogs are an outreach tool to make the science more public and widely understood. Even mathematicians have taken up blogging with enthusiasm, going so far as to do things like collaboratively develop proof sketches on wikis!

Timothy Morton said...

Thanks for that Mark. I'll add something about this--I heard that some scientists are now quite disillusioned with peer review, as the physicists were a while back (hence the existence of ArXiv.org).

karen said...

Please come to the University of Sydney! Recently i handed in some post graduate work, on the idea of the free spirit, that was deemed un scholarly, despite reference to 'New' Media theorists and clear indications that academic and other blogs would be used as sources throughout. Yet, the usual, this is not academic work, perhaps you should reconsider your project and the like. So, I thank you for the great post from Alex Reid and look forward to future interventions with regard to gatekeepers and fortresses. KK